mesh Meet Up Number Two

I’m just back from SXSW (great conference) and I see this is my third post in a row about mesh…I will get off the mesh train shortly with some great posts. While still on the mesh train however, I wanted you to know we are having another mesh meet up/mixer Thursday March 28 at the Charlotte Room (King & Spadina).  *Everyone* is welcome to join us.  We had over 100 people attend the last one at the Irish Embassy and we are hoping this event will be even better attended.  You can find out some more info on the mesh blog.  Mark your calendars.

mesh 2007 Tickets Now On Sale

It is with great pleasure that Mathew, Stuart, Mark, Rob and I announce that the mesh conference 2007 is now open for business.

What’s mesh? It’s a two-day conference in Toronto that endeavors to answer the question “What’s next online?” This is our second year and we sold out last year to a crowd of 400.

We try to answer that question by talking about how the internet is disrupting four streams: media, society, marketing and business. Our way will be illuminated by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, Robert Edelman of Edelman Public Relations, Jim Buckmaster of Craig’s List, Tom Williams of GiveMeaning and Austin Hill of Gifter, all of whom will be joining us for keynote conversations. We’ll be releasing more about our other speakers and the topics and panels over the coming weeks.

A number of people have asked me to fill them in when event goes live…so I’m telling you now. I’ll add this too, we want you to be there and given the interest we have received prior to today, I’m guessing we will sell out well before the event. So please buy your tickets now if you want to come.

So, there it is. Please visit the site and come join the conversation.

On a side note, I don’t think I could have possibly imagined how much I could learn or how much fun I could have by being a part of this group. Mathew, Rob, Stuart and Mark – thank you very much. I would also like to thank our sponsors who make it possible to bring in such wonderful speakers. I can’t wait for May 30/31.

Things I Just Don't Believe In

As posted on the FreshBooks Blog (there are some comments there too):

Sometimes I see things I just don’t believe in. Here’s an example.

A recent Fortune Magazine article describes how Dov Charney, the founder and CEO of American Apparel, raised money through a SPAC. SPACs are shell companies that raise hundreds of millions in equity and go public. Once public they wait for an opportunity and once they find one, they put their equity to work. Since going public is such a painful process with Sarbanes Oxley and all the other red tape, SPACs are attractive to entrepreneurs as a quick way to raise big capital.

Here’s my thing: I just don’t believe in SPACs. Time may prove me wrong, and if that’s the case, so be it.

American Apparel is an interesting company who has grown very quickly. They do untraditional things like manufacture all their garments in the US, which in these times of outsourcing, I applaud them for. That said, SPACs seem like soulless entities to me. What are the odds they share the business values of the people at American Apparel? Slim to none I’d say. What if the dark clouds come when you have an investor like that? Wouldn’t be pretty I suspect.

Time will tell. Let’s give it 5-10 years. Standing here today, American Apparel’s decision to take investment from a SPAC seems like folly to me.

SPACs remind me of something we recently went through up here in Canada – income trusts. Income trusts were all the rage in Canada in recent years, and with all due respect to those who believed that simply by converting to an income trust corporations could simply side-step income taxes, you were fools.

Things that sound too good to be true, usually are too good to be true. Other things like SPACs, they fall into the category of things I just don’t believe in.

DemoCamp12 – Gonna Be A Big One

From the FreshBooks Blog:

Largely thanks to the efforts of David Crow, over the past 12 months new life has been breathed into the Toronto technology community. Popular “unconference” type events that are free to attend (such as BarCamp and DemoCamp) have drawn developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs out of the woodwork. I’d like to take a second and recognize some standout companies that have been born of Toronto and surrounding areas over the last 24 months.

ConceptShare – launched about three Months ago, my favourite service of 2006 is ConceptShare. It was founded by a three person team based out of Sudbury Ontario and the service is a FANTASTIC way for teams to collaborate on visual designs.

B5Media – B5 is a blog network – a new media company with over 2 million unique visitors a month. My friend Mark Evans left the National Post to pursue this opportunity as COO. I was looking at their site yesterday and they have over 14 verticals advertisers can place their content. If you are an advertiser or marketer, or if you are an aspiring blogger looking to earn some revenue, check them out.

Shopify – based in Ottawa, Shopify is an on demand shopping cart service. The technology behind the service is simple and quick to use and the layouts and designs are gorgeous. If you are looking to sell something online – or test if selling something online will work – you can get started quickly and effectively with Shopify.

Nuvvo – Ever wanted to teach a class on something, but you could not figure how to find students? Look no further than Nuvvo. You can prepare, manage and teach courses using Nuvvo – as well as collect payment. The couple behind the product are an exciting pair of technologists who I’m willing to bet you will hear from for years to come.

BubbleShare – run by serial entrepreneur Albert Lai, and recently sold for several million dollars, BubbleShare is one fantastic photo sharing service. I wrote it up here.

Next Monday is DemoCamp12 and I expect there will be 150 or more people in attendance to hear all about BubbleShare 2.0 and annual updates from several of the companies above. If you are in the area, sign up and join us.

Thoughts on Team Building

As posted on the FreshBooks blog

FreshBooks is growing – not just our user base (which crossed the 125,000 mark yesterday) – but our staff. As our company grows I am working hard to ensure that me and our other team members grow into our evolving roles as leaders, managers and domain experts. To that end I have been thinking more and more about team dynamics.

When you introduce a new member into a team there are a number of approaches you can take, and based on their knowledge and what they add to the team, you should vary your approach. Personally, I believe in giving responsibility to new team members as a sign of trust – a project I know they will succeed at. By giving a new team member an important project you send strong signals of trust and respect to the new member as well as the incumbents. These signals are paramount. That said, once you have given the project over, you have work to do.

To ensure the success of your new team member with their project, you need to support them. Presumably the new team member will be reporting back to the group. This could happen in a series of meetings or one grand finale. Any way you slice it, it is important that you make yourself available to your new team member at reasonable intervals. You need to check periodically (daily, weekly, hourly, whatever) so that the new member can bounce ideas off of you and you can validate the work that they have done. This is especially important leading up to the presentation.

To ensure the success of that meeting, you need to be on board with WHATEVER is being presented. That way this new person has buy in. If they have that, then their presentation is likely to be a success. With a series of successes like this, the new team member is well on their way to becoming an important part of the team.

Paranoia and Web App Design

From the FreshBooks blog:

Let me tell you a little story about a restaurant I love.

The restaurant is Churrasco Villa (beware the audio). I like them because they are fast, the quality is always good, their meals are nutritious, their facility is clean, their staff courteous and I can collect a take out dinner when I need to (usually 3-4 times per month). It’s the kind of neighborhood restaurant that always has people in the take out line and most of their seating capacity is full.

A few weeks ago I was deliriously hungry. You don’t have to spend much time around me to learn I eat every 3-4 hours and the wheels start to fall off if I have to wait much longer than that. So I called up the take out line and ordered.

When I went and picked up my food, I asked if I could sit at an unused table near the door and quickly eat my meal. The take out person said no. I then offered to tip the wait staff even though they would not be serving me – just for the quick use of that area and because I thought that might be the issue. The answer? No. And guess what? Now I’m mad.

As I quietly turned way from the counter I asked myself, “how did I turn so quickly from loving this place to being SO mad at it?” I was so mad I wanted to tell everyone what a dump it was. The trouble was I knew that was untrue…my rational mind still knew I loved the place.

So what happened? Clearly the staff at the take out window have been given some kind of policy that runs something like this: you can’t eat in if you order take out. Fair enough! The trouble is, how often do people really ask to do that? Once a month? Once a quarter? I’m willing to bet I looked awfully hungry when I collected my food, and as a regular customer, could they not cut me a break? Sure they could, the trouble is businesses fear the worst when they open the door to something like this because they fear it will be abused – the reality is they shouldn’t be afraid. Few people abuse your business and your policies and this fact is true of web applications too.

Inevitably when you are designing a web app or a website you will think of a scenario where a user can – in small way – abuse your site or game your system. It might be a really small thing like not entering a valid email address then they sign up. To prevent this you may force them to validate their email address before they can access their account. In theory you convince yourself that you are acting in your own best interest. The truth is you are not.

Trust your users and don’t worry about the small percentage of abusers – they won’t act ethically no matter what you do, so don’t invest your time trying to change them. The fact is very few people will abuse your sign up form, and invariably it takes more time to develop a form so that people can’t “trick” you. Also, designing and developing with a paranoid state of mind almost always adds a barrier to entry (i.e. “I have to check my email to get started? What a pain…forget it.”) that will get in the way of ethical users who want to use your service. These barriers will slow adoption and cost you in the long run.

FreshBooks is Hiring

We’re hiring at FreshBooks. We need a web designer and a web developer.

If you know anyone who wants to enjoy doing those kinds of things in a relaxed and professional environment, surrounded by people who genuinely enjoy each other and what they do, please drop Kathy a note [her email can be found on the job descriptions]. We’re looking to hear from one and all by January 19th, 2007.

Please pass this post along to family and friends – it’s always great to get references. Thanks to David Crow for posting those descriptions on his excellent UX job board.